Solar Companies Seek New U.S. Tariffs on Asian Imports

Solar Companies Seek New U.S. Tariffs on Asian Imports

A group of seven leading solar manufacturers filed trade complaints on Wednesday formally requesting that the Biden administration impose tariffs on solar products being exported from Southeast Asia into the United States.

The petitions were filed with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. They come amid growing alarm within the U.S. solar industry that a flood of cheap Chinese green energy technology exports are pushing down prices of solar panels and threatening efforts by the Biden administration to develop a domestic solar supply chain.

Chinese companies have been relocating production of solar products to neighboring countries to avoid existing tariffs, and U.S. manufacturers believe new trade measures are needed to protect their businesses. The complaints call for investigations into the trade practices of Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. In the past year, the United States has imported $12.5 billion worth of solar products from those countries as prices of solar products have dropped by around 50 percent.

The trade complaints are focused on imported solar cells, the parts of solar panels that turn light into electricity.

The call for new tariffs comes as the Biden administration has been increasingly vocal in its complaints about China’s excess industrial capacity, warning that cheap Chinese exports of green energy technology and other kinds of products threaten to distort global supply chains. Last week, President Biden called his trade representative to more than triple some tariffs on steel and aluminum products from China, as part of a series of moves meant to help cushion American manufacturers from a surge of low-cost imports.

Tim Brightbill, a trade lawyer representing the companies, said that the U.S. solar industry was in a “ very precarious” position and that investments made through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 that were meant to bolster American solar businesses were being threatened.

“China and Chinese-owned companies are manipulating our domestic market to benefit their economy and national security interests,” Mr. Brightbill said. “The United States is overly dependent on an adversary that has weaponized supply chain reliance in the past for an essential energy source.”

He added: “All of the recent investment in U.S. solar manufacturing, billions of dollars worth from the Inflation Reduction Act, is now at risk.”

Additional tariffs on solar imports are already looming.

In 2022, the administration announced a two-year delay on solar tariffs that were poised to take effect to allow for greater adoption of the technology in the United States. Last year, Mr. Biden vetoed legislation that would have reinstated the tariffs despite concern from Democrats and Republicans that the administration was not holding China accountable for its unfair trade practices.

Those tariffs are likely to be reinstated in June. And an exemption that has allowed two-sided, or bifacial, solar panels to avoid existing import duties is expected to be reversed in the coming days.

In making their complaints, the solar companies argued that additional tariffs are necessary to account for how Chinese companies have moved much of their solar manufacturing out of China and into other countries in Southeast Asia to circumvent trade restrictions.

Some U.S. solar companies have already been scaling back planned investments this year amid the collapse in prices.

The manufacturers that filed the complaint are Convalt Energy, First Solar, Meyer Burger, Mission Solar, Qcells, REC Silicon and Swift Solar.

If the Commerce Department initiates the trade investigation, it would likely begin in mid-May and take about a year.

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